There is evidence of settlements in the Brighton area as early as Neolithic times, although the first real documentary evidence is an entry in the Domesday Book, when it was called Brighthelmston. Brighthelmston developed into a thriving fishing town, at one stage boasting the largest fleet in the South-East of England. Unfortunately the industry was wiped out almost at a stroke by the destruction of the lower town due to coastal erosion. The town needed to find a new purpose to support itself.
Dr. Richard Russell, a resident of Lewes further along the coast, published a book in 1750 in which he highlighted the health benefits of the sea air and the bathing to be found in the village. He opened a clinic there, and from that point the destiny of Brighthelmston was sealed.
Royalty discovered the town during the latter half of the 18th century, and in 1783 the Prince of Wales descended with his entourage. He took to the place to such an extent that he had a villa built, the famous Marine Pavilion, complete with a dome and rotunda. In 1815, John Nash (the designer of London's Regents Park) was commissioned to upgrade the pavilion to a 'palace' and it was during this development that the onion shaped dome, as well as an assortment of minarets and pinnacles were added, turning the building into a miniature Taj Mahal. The interior also acquired a distinctly Chinese theme during this phase. In this form, the now 'Royal Pavilion' has survived to become the definitive landmark in Brighton. Later, during the Victorian era, the town thrived on the back of tourism, and the arrival of the railway in 1841 afforded Londoners access to the seaside in a couple of hours. Before long the town had earned the nickname 'London-by-the-Sea'. It also earned itself an image of bohemian, hedonistic lifestyles during this period, and a resonance of those times can sometimes still be felt around the town.
The shopping area known as The Lanes evolved from being fisherman's cottages into a unique assortment of shops, boutiques, cafés, pubs and restaurants. There is a higher than average proportion of antique shops here and it is easy to spend the entire day browsing for furniture, jewellery or just general bric-a-brac. Even if the shopping doesn't appeal, just wandering around the narrow little maze of streets is a delight in its own right. Another important shopping venue is the North Laines area, on the other side of North Street. This is a neighbourhood of small, trendy shops, with hardly a big High Street name to be seen. Clothes, music, jewellery, food; almost anything can be found here, and it's a great place to go if you're looking for something a little unusual.
The sea-front has always been the focal point of the town. Young and old alike flock here to watch and be watched. Motorcycle and scooter owners still congregate here from time to time to pay homage to the Mods and Rockers who made Brighton their own during the 50's and 60's. All the components that make up the archetypal English Seaside Town can be found along this 3-mile stretch of promenade - fish and chips, ice-cream, rock, amusements and classic sea-view bed and breakfast hotels.
At the centre of this activity you will find Brighton Pier, or Brighton Palace Pier as it used to be known. Finally completed in 1901, Brighton Pier one of the last piers to be constructed in England. It was also one of the largest. Built with a wider than average deck, a 1,500-seater pavilion at the seaward end was complimented by smaller pavilions containing dining rooms, grill rooms, smoking rooms and reading rooms. There were ornamental arches for the electrical illuminations, and an electric tramway ran up the centre. Provision for bathers at the pier head, and a landing stage for pleasure craft completed the picture. Today, the pier is now a Grade-II listed structure, and plays host to a funfair, a skating rink, various stalls and arcades, bars and a restaurant.